March 8 2014 Latest news:
Tuesday, February 18, 2014
Norfolk County Council has set its budget for next year - by a narrow margin - after an 11th hour deal was brokered with the Green party.
What’s all this fuss about? Why should I care about Norfolk County Council’s budget?
Well, to steal a line from Anchorman Ron Burgundy, it’s kind of a big deal. The council spends about £1.5bn a year on services which affect many of us - be it fixing pot-holes, getting rid of our rubbish, looking after vulnerable people or running libraries. The county council employs almost 6,000 people, plus a further 14,200 in schools.
So what was agreed yesterday?
The Labour/Liberal Democrat budget, that’s what. The council agreed - by 41 votes to 39 - a £308m revenue budget on what to spend money on in 2014/15. And that means some £76.7m of cuts and savings starting from April. That will be followed by £53m the next year and £38.2m the year after that. That adds up to about £168m over the next three years, which the council says goes some way to plugging a £189m funding gap caused by extra costs and less government cash.
Gosh. £168m of cuts and savings. How will that affect me?
It depends on who you are. At the most basic level, if you’re a driver, you might find pot-holes don’t get fixed, because £1m less will be spent on road maintenance next year.
If you use a library, then you might see less staff there and if you recycle, then you’re likely to find yourself having to pay to take things like tyres to the tip.
On a more extreme level, if you work at Norfolk County Council, then your job could be at risk, while if you get social care from the council, then you could be facing big changes in the care you get.
That’s a bit worrying, isn’t it?
That’s what a lot of people told the council in the Putting People First consultation carried out into the proposed cuts, reductions and savings. The changes in social care came up as one of the biggest issues, along with cuts to subsidies for 16 to 19 transport. The council has pulled back a bit from those changes as a result.
I guess all this need to save money means my council tax is going up, right?
Actually, no. The Greens had wanted a 3.5pc council tax hike. That would have raised £10.6m, but would have needed a referendum which would have cost about £1m. That was rejected and the council agreed to freeze its share of the council tax. The police precept is set to go up, however, and some town and district councils, such as Norwich City Council, are planning to increase their share.
The Labour/Liberal Democrat administration, which has support from UKIP, had proposed a budget paving the way for £167m of savings and cuts over the next three years.
From reductions in library staff and school crossing patrols to less money to fix roads and charging for recycling, the proposals were outlined in a consultation called Putting People First.
But the Conservatives voted against the budget and only an 11th hour deal agreed with the Greens, which led to two of that four-strong group voting for it, saw the budget over the line. It was agreed by 41 to 39, with one abstention.
A UKIP amendment, including reducing cuts to Trading Standards, making money available to help carers and creating a £250k emergency coastal erosion fund was voted through.
A Green amendment, calling for a 3.5pc council tax increase, which would have been used to safeguard personal budgets and some school services was lost yesterday morning.
For a while, it looked as if the Greens might vote against the budget, but late in the debate, which went on for more than five hours. a decisive breakthrough was reached.
The deal agreed with the Greens, which saw two of them vote with the administration, is for a review into the cuts to personal budgets, which could see £1m put back in for the next year.
The Greens were also given confirmation that there will be an extraordinary council meeting where councillors get another vote on whether to push ahead with the incinerator at King’s Lynn.
There was much criticism of the Conservative group for failing to table an amendment. The Conservatives said that, once they started looking into the budget, it became clear there were flaws and would be too big a task to salvage it.
Conservative leader Bill Borrett, who was chastised by the chairman for using a swearword at one point, bore the brunt of much of the criticism for his group’s lack of an amendment.
There were suggestions he had lost the support of his group and was on the brink of resigning.
Afterwards, he dismissed such suggestions. He said: “I would never be so arrogant to assume I have a right to be Conservative leader, but I am happy to fill the role if that is what my group want.”
Two of the most contentious proposals were to cut subsidies for transport for 16 to 19 year old students and to reduce spending on personal budgets in adult social services.
Those cuts have been given a stay of execution, although the savings are still factored in over the three years, pending the review secured by the Greens.
An extra £3m, as previously agreed, is earmarked for the troubled children’s services department. At yesterday’s meeting, James Joyce, cabinet member for safeguarding, had warned the Department for Education would take a dim view of a failure to set a budget.
The £308.3m budget for next year is predicated on a freeze for council tax.
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